Prolation

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A subdivision of the rhythmic system which in Medieval music governed the proportionate duration of the semibreve and the minim.

Prolation was of two kinds, the Greater and the Lesser – called by early English writers the More and the Lesse, and by the Italians, Prolazione Perfetta, and Imperfetta. In the former – usually indicated by a circle or semicircle, with a point of perfection in its center – the semibreve was equal to three minims. In the latter – distinguished by the same signs, without the point – it was equal to two minims.

The signs, however, varied greatly at different periods. In the latter half of the 16th century, for instance, the circle was constantly either used in connection with, or replaced by, the figure 3, to which circumstance we owe the presence of that figure in our own time signatures, the time now known as 3-2 being, in fact the exact modern equivalent of the Greater Prolation, and that commonly called All Breve, of the Lesser.

Prolation was generally intermixed with Mood and Time, in curiously intricate proportions, which, however, were greatly simplified by the best masters of the best period.

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